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How I Met Your Mother is SO not “Friends without boring Ross”

If you’ve watched any of Channel 4’s stable of channels recently, chances are you may have come across a trailer announcing digital channel E4’s “brand spanking new” sitcom, How I Met Your Mother.

So new, indeed, that it first appeared in the UK on BBC2, erm, three years ago. Still, E4 will be running episodes each weekday at 7.30pm Monday to Friday. Quite why they’ve chosen to start the run on a Friday is something that Angela Jain, E4’s controller, will understand more than I do. But the daily stripping should mean that we fair race through episodes of the comedy that is already on to a fifth season in the US.

One quibble I have, though, is the trailer itself (which, as far as I can tell, doesn’t exist in any online form I can link to). In essence, it draws comparisons between each of the five characters of HIMYM and five of the six regulars in that other classic New York-based twentysomething sitcom, Friends — and concludes that the channel’s latest acquisition is just “New episodes of Friends without boring bloody Ross”.

Which, of course, presumes that (a) Ross is boring, and (b) the two sitcoms are in any way alike. Well, they’re both set in Manhattan, both feature attractive twentysomethings, but really, that’s about it. While Friends is very much a conventional sitcom with an unusually high hit rate of jokes per minute (even in its leaner “oh-my-god-isn’t-Matthew-Perry-thin” period), How I Met Your Mother is often much smarter than that.

Most episodes consist of a future version of the main character, Ted, trying to tell his children how he met their mother (hence the show title). However, it’s clear from the outset that not only is future Ted an unreliable narrator, but the show itself is quite happy playing with time and memory in ways that convential sitcoms don’t. Indeed, back when the first season was showing on BBC2 in 2006, I compared it do a very different, UK-originated, sitcom:

Famously, of course, Coupling itself tried and failed to make the transition Stateside — another inevitable failure, as Stephen Moffat’s intelligent scripts that often play with the conventions of television fell flat at the hands of a miscast troupe and audience expectations that this series would be “the next Friends”.

And yet, a couple of years on, America has shown that it can do a Coupling-style show, and sell it back to the UK. How I Met Your Mother is currently showing on Sunday evenings on BBC2, with BBC Three a week ahead on Monday evenings. Once you get past the show’s contrived situation (a father in the year 2030 telling his children how he met, er, their mother), you end up with a fun comedy that is a cut above most in the genre. Like Stephen Moffat’s masterpiece, HIMYM is also showing that it’s not afraid to deviate from conventional sitcom structure. For example, Sunday’s episode, The Pineapple Incident, sees lead character Ted wake up after an alcohol-fuelled night that he has no memory of. Over the course of the episode, as his friends take turns in filling him in on what he get up to, we see differing reconstructions of the night in flashback. The gradual build-up of alternative stories doesn’t quite match some of Moffatt’s genius plotting for Coupling, but it’s pleasant enough for a Sunday evening show.

And now, of course, pleasant enough for weekday evenings.

There’s one upside to Channel 4’s insistence that How I Met Your Mother is the new Friends, of course — the chance that we’ll see episodes crop up every other hour at all times of the day or night. And that can only be a good thing.

5 Comments

Thank you for this article!

I've been a fan of HIMYM for years (bought series 1-3 on import) and I've watched series 4, and it's NOTHING like Friends, and I'm surprised that E4 have went for this marketing strategy.

I love Friends as I grew up on it but with e4 and channel 4 constantly showing it, I'm sick to death of it, and surely everybody else is too - so why market their "new" show as the new Friends?

If I was unaware of HIMYM I wouldn't watch it based on the advert e4 have got on right now.

I'll be re-watching Chuck on Virgin 1 instead...

SUIT UP!

I think E4 have marketed it in this way because, when all's said and done, very few people HATE Friends. It's watchable, still funny(ish) and popular even now - almost 15 years after it was first released. So to say "It's kind of like Friends..." is like an unknown singer saying "I'm kind of a bit like Ruthie Henshall" - it's paying itself a big compliment. I think they're hoping that people will uncritically accept HIMYM in the way that we uncritically accept re-runs of Friends even now, in 2009!

I completely agree. HIMYM is nothing like friends. But if we are making comparisons surely Ted would be Ross, no?
E4 probably think people will watch it if they say its like Friends, but when everyone's pretty much sick of Friends due to the constant repeats, I think E4 need a new marketing campaign.

It's not so much the likening to Friends that I hate (although it is stupid and I do think you can draw more comparisings to Coupling) it's that fact the advertising is done in a negative way - the annoying announcer demeans the intelligence of the program by pretty much saying 'we've seen it all before' because it's Friends without Ross and therefore not selling the plus points of the program.

If viewers don't get told they are watching 'a love story in reverse' as the tag line is, they may not actually get the point of the sitcom - and whilst that doesn't take away from the program's enjoyment as such - they miss out on the clever things they do like slipping in hints early to things that then crop up in later seasons.

I emailed Channel 4 about it as it frustated me so much each time the trail came on and apparently it will get passed on to the appropriate people but I wonder how much one voice can actually do?

Surely it cost E4 money to buy this program - why not sell it to us and tell us what sets it apart from the myriad of american programs they show.

that really annoyed me about e4 billing it as the new friends as my housemates are convinced now that it is and wont give it a chance. this is a really clever show and the dynamics of the cast is brilliant - best character in it is barney - neil patrick harris who plays him is awesome - as are the other cast members.

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